Friday, March 23, 2012

Introducing 'Brass Chamber Music'

Brass chamber music is a genre about which many people know little or nothing at all. Omit the word ‘brass’ from the phrase, and many music lovers will respond, “Oh, yes – how I love string quartets,” referring to what is often considered the most sophisticated genre in Western music. 

The Pomona College Brass Quintet performs at Los Angeles' California Club.

That chamber music also exists for brass instruments has come as a surprise to many people, including long-time music aficionados and music professors, despite the fact that its history – even according to a narrow definition of the term – can be traced back 200 years to the early 19th century. The history of music for small brass ensembles actually goes back much further – at least to the courtly trumpet ensembles of the 16thcentury – and is an important and interesting record of a phenomenon that is still enjoyed today by performers and concertgoers around the world. Brass quintets, in particular, abound in 21st-century amateur and professional music circles.

Brass chamber music has figured prominently in my life. I have performed brass chamber music since my childhood, taught classes and workshops in brass chamber music for many years, composed and published many chamber brass works (explore and its online music store for more about that), and released a CD of my compositions for brass quintet. (To listen or purchase, see my Web site, or search on ‘Raymond David Burkhart’ in CDBaby and iTunes.) Even my PhD dissertation – which weighs in at 486 double-spaced pages – is in the field of brass chamber music. My overview there of brass chamber music and its history runs almost 120 pages. I have also given papers on brass chamber music in the US, France, and Scotland.

So the time has come to blog about brass chamber music. There is a lot to say, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it here. For instance, I’ll be giving a paper entitled “American Ladies’ Brass Quartets Before 1900: “Clever, versatile, and fair to look upon” at this summer’s Third Historic Brass Symposium in New York. My latest commission – to be premiered this coming May in Stanford, California – is for brass quintet. My newest publication – Steven J. Williams’ Mass– is scored for brass quintet. I’ll blog about all this and more, but it seemed a good idea to introduce the concept of ‘brass chamber music’ to the blogosphere before I start writing about it more frequently.

So, welcome! You are now ‘in-the-know’ about brass chamber music. You are among the initiated – the brass intelligentsia. You can refer to the genre knowingly at parties and impress your dates with your erudition. But be sure to ‘follow’ my blog to get the latest scoop.

Musically yours, Dr. Ray

Friday, March 9, 2012 Goes Live!

Yesterday was a good day! After months of collaboration with some excellent Web design professionals, my new Web site launched. It's beautifully designed and full of content. It's interactive, too. You can explore it at, and I hope you do!

A screen shot from

You'll find a Biography page and pages that tell of my work as a trumpeter, composer, educator, conductor, and musicologist. There are some fun pictures, and many of the pages have music players that will play three or four excerpts from recordings of my music. Snoop around and have some fun.

You'll find an Online Store, where you can explore my audio recordings and print publications. There are too many sheet music categories to list here (37 and counting), but they include choir, orchestra, band, British Brass Band, many different small brass ensembles, and other categories. In fact, brass chamber music is one of my principal musical activities (I'll blog about that soon), and brass players will find lots of interesting offerings, especially for brass quintet. Many of these brass quintet publications can be heard on my CD, Watercolor Menagerie (2004). Visit my Audio Recordings page to buy a CD directly from me, or use the iTunes or CDBaby links to buy my recordings online. Orders by PayPal (US and international) or check (US only) are always welcome!

You'll also find links to my Facebook and YouTube pages and to this blog. My YouTube page is devoted to my orchestra and band conducting, and my Facebook page has many fun photo albums. As for this blog, why don't you follow it and get notifications of new blog entries?

Thanks from Dr. Ray!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Recollections of Maurice Andre

Maurice Andre
To those who know, there is little to say about him that hasn't been said. You already know his deserved fame and status among the greatest of 20th-century trumpeters. You know his singing tone, his faultless technique, his many brilliant recordings. If you do not know, thanks to the marvel of the Internet and YouTube, you can (and should) take some time to listen to the many recordings and videos you can find there of Maurice Andre playing trumpet. You won't regret it. To my students: this is required! Give yourself plenty of time to listen and learn from the best.

I have no photos with him. I never shook his hand. I heard him play twice in Los Angeles, but I never met him. Actually, I almost met him, but that's another story for another blog...

But he influenced me profoundly, as I think he influenced so many trumpeters in and around my generation. And thanks to him and my parents, I had one of my first amazing music lessons.

Haydn's Trumpet Concerto is one of those pieces that is frequently used as audition pieces for high school trumpeters, so I first encountered it when I was 13 or 14. I practiced and practiced and practiced it, and then I practiced it some more. I lived in Red Bluff, California, a little town in rural northern California, and record stores were few and far between. I know they're basically non-existent now, but in those pre-digital days before CDs and the rest, records were big, if you could get at them, and we didn't get at them easily.

Somehow, for Christmas one year, my parents got me a record of Maurice Andre playing some trumpet concertos, including the Haydn. When I had the chance, I eagerly played it on my little Capehart record player. It was a real ear-opener. I'd never heard such glorious, effortless, gorgeous playing! I listened to the recording again. I recall listening to it only twice, before I had to take out my Bach B-flat trumpet (having no idea yet about E-flat trumpets) and play through the concerto myself.

I was amazed to find that I could instantly play the concerto at least twice as well as I could play it before I heard Andre's recording. No pondering, no period of soaking in, no gradual progress. The improvement was instantaneous. I felt like a completely different player. Literally, one minute I could play it at one level, and after listening to Andre, my quality of performance doubled, or more. I learned a very important lesson that day. Concept is nearly everything. Being able to play the notes, without knowing how they really should sound, is a very small part of making music. Having a high concept of how music should sound is not only helpful, but requisite.

I heard him play 'live' for the first time in 1980 in Los Angeles. Maybe late 1979. I was a freshman at Occidental College, and four of us crammed into a friend's little old Datsun that barely moved in the first place, and whose handling was not improved by a quartet of eager young trumpeters folded into its tight dimensions. If you know the Pasadena Freeway, with its stop and go onramps in the Highland Park area, you can imagine my excitement even before the concert. White knuckles doesn't begin to describe it. I'd never seen the Pasadena freeway, and I'd never been in a car that needed to go from zero to 60 in about a block, as three lanes of traffic bore down on us at full speed. In the dark. And I think it was raining. Anyway, we survived that and got to and from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles in the same number of pieces we started out with. I'd never been there before, either. It was a night of firsts for a kid fresh from the sticks.

As young as I was, I still knew the audience was chock full of trumpeters. They were everywhere, and there were more big names than you could imagine. It was a trumpet and organ recital, and it was terrific. He'd given a master class, too – which I heard was even more amazing – but I wasn't able to attend that. It was a thrilling night.

In 1984 or 1985, I heard him again. He played the Haydn with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Embassy Theater in downtown L.A. Fantastic. That was the night I very nearly met him. But, enough for now. That's definitely a story for another blog.

I wish I'd met him. I wish I'd shaken his hand. I wish I had a photo. But no. His blessing to me was to record wonderful music that I and the world rejoiced in. I thank him now for that pivotal day many years ago when he gave me my first lesson on how to play the Haydn. I'll never forget it.

Thank you, Mr. Andre. Merci.